Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens

Kenilworth Park & Aquatic Gardens 1550 Anacostia Avenue Northeast Washington

DC Parks: The Past in our Presence/Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens
VAMONDE Washington D.C.
Written By VAMONDE Washington D.C.

Plant and wildlife lovers, this is your destination. Located inside Anacostia Park, the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens are a feast for the eyes. With 45 ponds full of lotus flowers, water lilies, hyacinths, koi, turtles, and heron, there's always something delightful and surprising to see here. Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens were built as a labor of love by Walter Shaw, a Union soldier who lost his right arm fighting in the Civil War. By day, he clerked in the Treasury Department, and at night, he worked his land, digging and deepening his ponds so he could grow lotus as he had back home in Maine. The flowers began to flourish and neighbors, who had never seen anything like them, started buying up lotus faster than Walter could grow them.

Soon Shaw was able to quit his day job and formed the Shaw Lily Pad Company. He expanded to 45 square ponds, each featuring a different species and variety of plants and flowers. For example, one had 5-foot lily pads in it, another plants for aquariums, yet another those fabulous lotus flowers, and another for Japanese carp. In 1908 alone, Shaw sold over 70,000 lotus flowers to the Waldorf-Astoria.

Shaw died a wealthy man, leaving his business to his daughter. The ponds almost perished in the 1930s when the Potomac was being dredged, but eventually, the National Park Service acquired the land in 1938. It was then annexed into Anacostia Park. Today, the gardens are open 8 am - 4 pm during the summer and 9 am - 5 pm during the winter. Peruse the flora and fauna in the many ponds, or walk the elevated boardwalks in search of the great blue heron. Guided tours are available, as are volunteer opportunities.

Cover photo by Sarah Starkweather via Flickr

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